The European Union and Turkmenistan held the twelfth round of their annual Human Rights Dialogue on 18 June 2020. The meeting took place by videoconference between Brussels and Ashgabat because of the travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The European Union considers the rule of law and respect for human rights to be essential elements of the EU-Turkmenistan relationship. The Dialogue allowed for an open and constructive exchange on a wide range of issues, with a particular focus on the repercussions of the pandemic on human rights. The EU stressed that in emergency circumstances, international human rights law only allows States to take restrictive measures that are prescribed by law, proportionate to the evaluated risk, limited in time, and non-discriminatory.
During the Dialogue, the parties exchanged views on the legal framework for the protection of human rights in Turkmenistan, as well as its implementation, the situation of civil society, fundamental freedoms, conditions in detention, cooperation with UN special procedures, as well as individual cases of concern, including human rights defenders. The EU conveyed the strong and persisting concerns that it has on several of these issues.
Discussions took place on the possibility to organise visits by the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, which Turkmenistan is considering, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights. The EU welcomed the country’s decision to receive an advisory team of the World Health Organization shortly, as well as their readiness to allow EU diplomats to visit detention centres once the epidemiological conditions allow.
The EU presented its new EU Action Plan on Human Rights (2020-2024) and stressed the importance of Turkmenistan updating its own National Human Rights Action Plan taking into consideration the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review recommendations. The EU also emphasised that Turkmenistan’s cooperation with international organisations, including the UN, International Labour Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), would be very positive.
The EU looked forward to the publication of the 2019 activity report of the Turkmen Ombudsperson’s office. The EU recalled the importance of the full independence of the Ombudsperson's office and of her engagement with the Turkmen authorities on all human rights issues, including enforced disappearances.
The EU also raised the importance of press and media freedom, including an open Internet, and the high importance of the Turkmen authorities creating more favourable conditions for the functioning of NGOs in the country. The EU emphasised the important contribution that an independent civil society can make to socio-economic resilience in times of crisis.
The EU welcomed the invitation extended to the EU Delegation to Turkmenistan to participate in the work of Inter-agency Commission for Coordination of Human Rights Issues. Having a fully-fledged Delegation on the ground will allow the EU to further increase interactions on human rights issues with the government, as well as with human rights defenders and civil society representatives.
The Turkmen delegation was led by Mr Vepa Hajiyev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. The EU delegation was led by Mr Philippe van Amersfoort, Acting Head of the Central Asia Division of the European External Action Service.
It was agreed to hold the next EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue in 2021 in Brussels, circumstances permitting, in full face-to-face format.